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Firefighters 'save' pilots during local exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Marasky
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Firefighters with the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron and the 18th Wing crash response team responded to an exercise scenario simulating a KC-135 Stratotanker fire Tuesday as part of local operational readiness exercise Beverly High 08-04.

Arriving upon the scene, the firefighters quickly worked to extinguish the flames in the aircraft's number three and four engines, while simultaneously working to pull out the trapped crew.

"The crew was essentially trapped inside with a fire on board," said Lt. Col. Mike Bibeau, 18th Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation.

Large tanker aircraft present a number of dangers that come with a fire, said Master Sgt. Joseph Sullivan, 718th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, KC-135 production superintendent.

"With a KC-135 fire the major problem you run into is the fuel load," he said. "The aircraft can carry fuel loads of up to 200,000 pounds."

For this particular exercise, real-world weather provided extra concerns for the fire fighters who had to walk along the wings.

"The weather was a problem for us today," said Staff Sgt. Felsia Jones, 18th CES firefighter. "Because of the rain the wing was wet and slippery, and the wind was a major factor being on the wing."

Despite the issues the rescue workers had to deal with, their urgent efforts were appreciated by the aircrew, said Capt. Sean Rainey, 909th Air Refueling Squadron pilot.

"The fire crews were really fast in their response," he said. "After we [made] the call, within 15-20 seconds we saw the first truck rolling. It's good to know they're responding that fast, you never know when you're going to experience something like that.
"Just knowing that these guys will respond that fast is a comfort."

Such exercise scenarios give 18th Wing Airmen opportunities to practice skills they might not normally use, such as a tanker fire, and help prepare them for the upcoming Pacific Air Forces Operational Readiness Inspection.

"We have to artificially create this kind of practice," said Colonel Bibeau. "We don't really have emergencies like this happen on a normal basis, so they don't get to practice like that."

The inspectors are treating this week's exercise a bit different in some cases, allowing members to run through full scenarios before giving the participants feedback.

"This is our big dress rehearsal for the big inspection coming up," said Colonel Bibeau. "We're letting them just do their thing and we're giving them comments afterwards."

In the end, the KC-135 aircrew was rescued and the fires extinguished.

"From what I saw standing outside, everything seemed to go pretty good," said Colonel Bibeau. "They put out the fire, got the crew out. It was a success for this one."